Monday, September 24, 2007

Under the weather

Some low-grade and spiteful virus has kept me home for a few days.

For now I'm soaking in the late summer heat thinking about how lucky I am, working Spring and Summer with our nation's National Park Service.

For a glimpse of that good fortune go to or simply click on the title of this post...

and when you get there, scroll down to watch the video.

I'll be back to posting in a few days.

Ranger Mannie

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Me gassing on about artillery to cute gals and unsuspecting passersby

Here's a video shot and edited by my good friend Steve Soper last spring at Gettysburg.
(or just click on the title above)

Steve is a wonderful guy, a Civil War historian, and a really fine film maker. Check out all of his online videos at:

or go to his blog:

You'll be glad you did.

Sweet dreams.

Ranger Mannie

Manassas Visit

More pictures and notes from the trip Ranger Hoptak and I took to Bull Run last Wednesday. (click on the title above for John's version of what happened).

John and I are ready for a day of hiking.

Many years ago colleague and pal Ranger Keith worked at Manassas.

He likes to regale us with a dramatic telling of a story of the Jackson monument being hit with lightning. Keith saw the whole thing and insists that the bolt left a distinctive scar on the pedistal of the monument.

Well, I'll be.

Manassas has a very nice array and variety of guns, and being a cannon-weenie I have a hard time passing up such shots. Here are three (or so ) batteries of six-pounders, howitzers, and rifled six pounders; all bronze.

A low angle shot of the Stone Bridge, a really beautiful piece of construction, as is...

...the stone house down in the valley. This shot makes evident the pressures on the park by its proximity to Washington D.C. The traffic at this historic intersection of the Warrenton Turnpike (Hwy 29) and the Manassas-Sudley Road (route 239) is generally heavy to intense. Fortunately for hikers there are crosswalks.

A couple more fine looking batteries up on Matthews Hill. These are bronze 14 pounder James rifles. A very distintive style of gun. At first glance they look like elongated 3 inch ordnance rifles...except they're bronze, which may cause one to say "Hey! what gives?"

Closer inspection reveals the pronounced front blade sight as well as the unique James system of rifling. These are really handsome guns, and represent the type that were used in this particular position.

The trunnion provides a manufacture date. All true James rifles were produced in 1861 and '62.

For much of this trip John pelted me with anecdotes about his beloved 48th PA and the minute details of their involvement at Second Manassas, prelude to their single-handed victory at Antietam and all historic points beyond.

Following about a dozen of John's breathless accounts of the 48ths exploits I found certain unwholsome thoughts creeping into my mind...

...but, I digress.
Manassas is a park that I've visited perhaps a half a dozen times in my life. This recent trip was an eye-opener. Never has the flow of the first battle been so clear to me. John noted the same thing and between us we came up with three reasons for this new clarity.

Ranger Hoptak's suggestion was that now, as interpretive rangers, we probably approach historic places with a whole new perspective that lends itself to reading the space critically.

I opined that this clarity comes from the unhurried pace of the visit. Previously for me a trip to this battlefield would have been as a tourist coming from Michigan, trying to rush to as many Civil War sites as my vacation permited. Now that I live in the region there is no longer a rush. I can soak it in at a very relaxed pace.

We both agreed that the primary reason for this new clarity had do do with the on-going changing physical aspect of the park:

Tree removal.

Huge non-historic tracts of trees have been and are being removed from the park to restore the field to its war-time appearance. We arrived in the area of the Deep Cut (stop 6 on the driving tour map) to find the area closed and three huge trucks pulling out with full loads of newly felled and trimmed timber.

The results will be pretty dramatic.

As evidenced in this shot Between Matthews and Buck Hills. The cut-over patch in the foreground used to resemble the trees in the background, which, I believe, are also slated for removal.

The result being unobstructed viewscapes and a field more closely resembling the way it looked in 1861.

This is now the view from the Henry House across the valley clear to those James rifles on Matthews hill.

This is one of few reasons that I can think of to cut down healthy trees. I applaud the park's decision to move in this direction.

A final stop at one of my favorite Civil War monuments, and one of the earliest, erected just a couple of months after Appomattox. This simple stone testimonial, erected by soldiers, I find to be particularly evocative.

Surmounted by projectiles (the originals were said to be "live" for many decades following the war) this rugged structure sits atop Henry House Hill,

bearing this eloquent tribute:

which could just as easily be the mission statement of the park itself.

It was a fine visit.

Enjoy these fleeting days!

Ranger Mannie

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Busman's holiday: Manassas

Yesterday my buddy and fellow ranger, John Hoptak and I travelled to Manassas to try and get a handle on the first fight at Bull Run. Go to
for John's version of the day's proceedings.

I'll post the story and pix later this week. For now note my continued marveling at the build on "Old Blue Light".

Jack's getting ready for beach wear.


Click on the title of this post for a short Youtube.

See you at the gym!

Ranger Mannie

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

145th battle anniversary

John Hoptak spells it out quite clearly on his blog: (or just click on the title of this post)

So I'll just add some pictures and reflection.

It was a remarkable weekend. Early Monday morning lots of people were gathered at the New York monument for the all day hikes.

I had a great orientation talk with about thirty very interested visitors.

The Wildcat band performed in Dunker Church... as well as the Mumma Barn.

I could just hear them as I was driving past on the two hour tour...

It was like leading a parade.

Yesterday evening the ladies of the Sanitary Commission invited my wife Virginia and I to dinner.

This roast was so good with applesauce and mashed potatos.

Linking up with Harry Smeltzer and Brian Downey was a real pleasure (where the heck is Ranger Hoptak during these photo ops?)

It was a most memorable weekend.

Yes, there was lots of fun, music, and pagentry (and pie), but the bottom line is this; over the past four days many thousands of visitors (for the first time) learned of the individual sacrifices that were made on these fields and the legacies of this great battle. This is why we remember their efforts.

I'm very proud to be a small part of this special place.

See you next year,

Ranger Mannie

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ranger Mannie receives Medal of Honor...

from park superintendent John Howard, for safe keeping in a display case.

The final act of battle anniversary occurred this evening as the Medal of Honor awarded to 1st Lt. George W Hooker, 4th Vermont Infantry, was donated to Antietam National Battlefield by Lt. Hooker's descendant, Mr. Henry Willard.

Hooker's valor at the battle of Crampton's Gap during the 1862 Maryland Campaign resulted in his being awarded our nation's highest military decoration.

The evening's program included remarks by local luminaries including park historian Ted Alexander.

It was a wonderful close to an indredibly satisfying four days.

I'll post more tomorrow, but now a cold barley based beverage and a good foot soak are the priority after a very long day.

nite all,

Ranger Mannie

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Living Rangerously

Reminding myself of the original purpose of this blog - to provide information to those seeking employment as National Park Service Rangers.

I'm a seasonal ranger .

90% of the NPS ranger force are seasonal rangers.

We are GS 5's, that's $14.00 an hour with vacation and sick days.

When I took this job my wife asked: "are there any benefits?"

and I replied:

The badge, the big hat, and working at the best place on the planet...

with the best colleagues one could hope for:

(l to r, Ranger Mike, Ranger Brian, Me, Ranger John, Ranger Alann. Not pictured are Ranger Keith -the cameraman, Ranger Christie, and Ranger Gordie).

Hey young person...join the NPS. It's the greatest job in the world.

Ranger Mannie

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Battle Anniversary!

Today began my favorite time at Antietam National Battlefield - Battle Anniversary weekend. This is the 145th anniversary of the battle of Antietam. It was a wonderful day, beautiful blue skies, huge enthusiastic crowds, and a full slate of programming. My feet and vocal chords are shot! It was an incredible experience...and it's only Saturday.

You know you live in Civil War Country when you follow a cannon to work in the morning. As I turned on to the Sharpsburg Pike from Boonsboro I found myself behind that beautiful 12 pound Napoleon that belongs to the South Mountain Battlefield. Maryland State Parks Ranger Al Preston and his crew preceded me into the park this a.m. setting up their gun with ours to provide some very loud interpretation for our visitors on this battle anniversary weekend. I'll soon have a Youtube up of Al and his outstanding gun detatchment in action.

The Visitor Center marquee shows a very full slate of programming...

and a very full overflow parking area to go along with it!

The U.S. Army arrives for a staff ride in the very cool early hours.

Ranger Brian is already leading a very large in-depth hike of the Union final attack trail.

Meanwhile, in downtown Sharpsburg, Sharpsburg Heritage Day is in full swing with a Civil War era "battle of the bands". Click on the title of this post to go directly to the Youtube of this event or go to:

Fellow bloggers Harry Smeltzer and Brian Downey posed for the obligatory blogger shot at the gun in front of the Visitor's Center...

While Ranger Mike holds forth at Burnside Bridge.

The traditional "apres hike" gathering of rangers at the McKinley monument, with the usual wisecracks, sore feet, and great stories.

As I left the park, large groups of reenactors were converging on the battlefield to soak up the ambience of this special day.

I'm looking forward to tomorrow...and Monday. I'll keep you posted.

Best wishes from Boonsboro,

Ranger Mannie

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A.P. Hill: return engagement

"September Storm" is the name of the big reenacting event being held outside of Boonsboro this weekend. In observance of the 145th anniversary of the 1862 Maryland campaign and the battle of Antietam.

A couple thousand reenactors have descended upon the valley as well as their attendant posses, entourages, families, camp followers etc. all making for much hoopla and increased weekend visitation at the National Park.

One large group of Confederate reenactors recreated A.P. Hill's 17-mile, seven hour march from Harper's Ferry to Sharpsburg. They took a little longer than Hill's men though, with an overnight in Sheperdstown, arriving at the outskirts of the battlefiled by about eleven o'clock in the morning.

Ranger Keith was there to greet them and provide a weapons inspection (a requirement of all groups bringing replica firearms on park property).

It was a fatigued but good looking group with some mighty fine impressions.

Reenactors taking a breather upon reaching Sharpsburg, good thing they don't have to do battle with the Ninth Corps this time around.

Low-tech loafer, still smoking from a long march. Anybody packing some extra odor eaters?

Pretty nice impression, this group had some very convincing rebels in it.

Ranger Keith makes his way through the ranks insuring that all rifles are unloaded and that all cartridge and cap boxes are empty...M-T! no exceptions.

Fierce young reb doesn't scare me. That big, fat, stinky seegar in his hatband will probably do him more harm than a million reenacted bullets.

And this activity is just the beginning of a very busy week. For a full slate of all the park's battle anniversary events go to:

or simply click on the title of this post.

Hope to see you at the park next weekend!

Ranger Mannie

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Harvest of Barns: the Park barn (off the beaten path)

Here's a place that few visitors have ever been, the Park farm.

I really enjoy exploring the nooks and crannies of Antietam National Battlefield. Often, folks who read my blog comment that they really appreciate the inside views of these less accessible places. They'll certainly like this entry.

Over the last dozen years the park has grown by nearly 50%. In the overall history of the park this represents an explosion of growth. As area farmers retire the park makes every effort to purchase and restore the land and historic buildings. This decade of growth has brought some pretty interesting buildings back into the context of the battlefield. At the time of the battle, the Park family farmed just north of the Boonsboro Pike on the banks of Antietam creek.

Here's a glimpse.

An example of "the road less travelled", this lane comes up from the Antietam flood plain, the Park farm's back forty.

Situated not quite a half mile east of the observation tower, the Park barn is in pretty good condition.

The barn has the typical attached corncrib and pull-thru to the barnyard beyond. Although the barn is original to the time of the battle the corncrib and wagon shelter were probably added in the years following the war.

No surprises in the floorplan, Hay and machinery storage on top...

(nicely ventilated)

...and cows below,

though, I think its been quite some time since the last cow went down this chute.

This plant,
"stinging nettle" has replaced the cows in that barnyard.

Stinging nettle is the bane of hikers who brush up against it. The pain is intense and instantaneous. This closer look shows why.

Thousands of tiny, glass-like, hollow barbs cover the plant. Some of the barbs are filled with a chemical that causes pain, other barbs contain a chemical that acts as an intensifier for that first chemical. This is one spiteful plant!

Effects last between twelve and 24 hours (by the way, for me, it was about twelve).

This old mule barn is a real 'fixer-upper".

But that fixing happens.

As time, and funds, become avbailable, historically significant buildings, like this summer kitchen in the yard of the Park House, get the restoration work that will save them from further deterioration and preserve them for generations of visitors.

I'll check back from time to time to watch the progress.

Best wishes from the barnyard,

Ranger Mannie